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Arts and Entertainment

It's A Dead End Party

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What better way to wake up an Ahmanson audience than by having four swimsuit-clad ripped New York street kids, including the gorgeous, barely-legal Ricky Ullman, cannonball into a giant pool of water in the orchestra pit? Dead End, the first of 21 plays scheduled by Center Theatre Group's new artistic director Michael Ritchie, begins with a splash and ends with a song. We've never seen a large crowd of old theatre-goers pay better attention to the story than in this little-known Sidney Kingsley play.

Dead End, directed to perfection by Nicholas Martin, is the story of a bunch of New York East End kids trying to survive in a Depression-era neighborhood of increasing violence. This exuberant play thrives on pranks, love stories, gangsters, hookers, and head lice, and when it reaches sentiment, it feels completely justified. The large cast, including everyone from the stunning Joyce Van Patten to a bunch of USC acting students, evokes the feeling of a complete city.

The Everyman of the show is Gimpty (Tom Everett Scott), a lame, unemployed architect in love with a woman out of his class. He used to be a street kid himself, and looks out for the local gang, especially Tommy (Ricky Ullman), the smartest of the bunch. Gimpty spends much of the first act sitting by the river, watching and waiting. He is drawn into action when an old friend, the irrepressible, scene-stealing Baby-Face Martin (Jeremy Sisto) comes back to town. Martin is wanted for murdering eight men, but he won't leave the old neighborhood until he sees his mother and his former girlfriend.